Probably most people don't remember the days when K. D, Laing used to show up for gigs in a wedding dress and claim to be channeling the spirit of Patsy Cline. She wasn't doing the middle of the road drivel that she passes off as music now either, she was playing a high energy country music that was the forerunner to what people would eventually call alt-country. Basically, it was country music with a punk sensibility; everything was played a little faster and there was a healthy disrespect for the "traditions" of country music as represented by folk like Garth Brooks and all the other cross over stars.
Something really wonderful started to happen because of that alt-country movement. People started to become interested in the real sound of country music from the days before it fell into the hands of Nashville studios and was played by people in bad leisure suits and cowboy hats. The movie O Brother Where Art Thou? was the high point of that resurgence and people like Alison Krouse and Union Station, and Gillian Welsh began to receive widespread recognition.
After years of hearing sentimental songs about truck drivers, cold women, and warm beer that were as real as the rhinestones and sequins that decorated the performers costumes, hearing the old gospel tune "I'll Fly Away" played on real instruments and sung with sincerity was like a breath of fresh air. Of course the novelty wore off pretty quick, but not before it became obvious there was a market out there for bands who were willing to play music in the old style on acoustic instruments.
You can see that connection still alive and kicking in a band like the The Wilders with their high tempo music that gets its roots from the Ozarks and its soul from a honky-tonk. They make no bones about being a country band, their only concession to modern music is the use of an electric bass and a couple of overdubs on their forthcoming Someone's Got To Pay CD on Free Dirt Records. At the same time that doesn't mean they can't burn the house down with speed and energy that would put the Clash to shame.
Nearly half of Someone's Got To Pay is turned over to a series of songs based on the experiences one of the band members had serving on the jury of a first degree murder case. The defendant had shot and killed his ex-wife in front of her apartment block in front of her sister. As he was listening to the testimony, Phil Wade couldn't help but notice how the whole thing sounded just like one of the old murder ballads come to life.
While some other songwriters might have written some tear jerker "story-song" about love gone bad, what Phil and the rest of the Wilders have done is create a song cycle based on the trial. Four of the songs are short piano instrumentals with titles like "I Raised Up My Right Hand", and "An Old Murder Ballad Come To Life" that serve as bridges to the other parts of the disc, while the other five detail the different aspects of the trial. Doing this ensured that they didn't make the murder out to be something it wasn't.
There's nothing romantic about some asshole shooting his ex-wife. By keeping it in the court room, where all that matters is the facts of the case, they are able to avoid using any of the standard "Country & Western" cliches about how "I loved her so much that I had to kill her." Shooting someone in cold blood is not an act of love – it's an act of violence. The song cycle that the Wilders have written about this case, and about Phil Wade's involvement as a jury member, make sure we know that.
Listening to the music on Someone's Got To Pay, one quickly realizes just how talented a group the Wilders are. Unlike a lot of bands that can play fast and furious, the Wilders can also slow down and taste a song. Their vocal harmonies and playing are such that they prove that energy in music doesn't translate as only speed. Energy is the passion that you bring to what you're singing and playing. Passion is something the Wilders have in spades.
There are lots of Bluegrass bands out there that can play really fast. They also get boring quickly because every damn song starts sounding like the one they just played. The Wilders aren't that kind of fast band as each song they play has its own distinct character or feel. Whether they accomplish it through the vocals or the instrumentation, or a combination of the two, one way or another they make sure that none of their songs sound the same.
Soneone's Got To Pay is being released on April 15th, and if you've never heard the Wilders before this is a great opportunity to check out one of the finest examples of "real" Country music going today. This is a talented, skilled, and passionate band who know how to bring great music to life.